It’s easy to open the morning newspaper and read about a local house fire and lump the tragedy in with the rest of the day’s news: just another something that happened to somebody you don’t know. The most empathetic among us might pay passing thought to the family affected and reflect on how life-changing it would be to lose everything.

It’s easy to open the morning newspaper and read about a local house fire and lump the tragedy in with the rest of the day’s news: just another something that happened to somebody you don’t know. The most empathetic among us might pay passing thought to the family affected and reflect on how life-changing it would be to lose everything.


The 300-odd volunteers of the Texoma Area chapter of the American Red Cross don’t get the benefit of watching from a distance. By their own choice, they get up in the middle of the night and travel to tragedies far afield in order to help bring comfort to people they’ve never met.


"What you can do when you go to those peoples’ houses that have just burned down is you can actually do something to help them get going again," explained Red Cross volunteer Linda Arnold-Day. "Or when you’re out there and you see firemen who are just barely able to put one foot in front of the other and you’re able to hand them a bottle of Gatorade or a cup of coffee — it’s really very rewarding. We get a lot more out of it then we give."


The attitude of service expressed by Arnold-Day and her husband Scott Day is the power behind nearly all of the Red Cross’ response efforts, explained Texoma Area Executive Director Jim Durham.


"A lot of people don’t realize that we’re very much a volunteer-led organization," said Durham. "Our volunteers are our best assets."


The national Red Cross estimates that 98-percent of organizational operations are undertaken by volunteers. Locally last year, that added up to more than 64,000 volunteer manhours according to Community Partner Coordinator Tracy Hurst, who is herself – you guessed it – a volunteer.


"The paid staff is extremely small for the amount of work we do," said Hurst. "If you multiply (the volunteer labor) times $18 per hour, I mean that’s an incredible amount of savings, which then allows the money to truly go back into the community and help rebuild lives."


Durham said the organization last year supported 948 military families in the area and responded to nearly 100 disasters in Grayson, Fannin, and Cooke counties.


"We give (the victims) a place to stay, vouchers for food and clothing," said Durham. "Then we really work with them in the rebuilding process to hopefully meet their needs: find a new place to live, make sure the kids have school supplies — kind of trying to help them rebuild to a normal way of life."


And they do it all without a dime of direct government funding, according to the executive director.


"That’s one of our biggest misconceptions; people will say, ‘Oh, well you’re government-funded in Washington D.C.,’ and et cetera. Our national headquarters is in Washington D.C., but we’re strictly funded by local and national donations."


Functioning independent of tax money has its disadvantages, though, as the Red Cross relies entirely upon the generosity of the communities in which it works. Durham said 93 cents of every dollar donated to the group goes directly into victim assistance, and money specifically donated for local benefit is used solely for that purpose, he said.


"Clients we serve will say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so thankful for this, but there’s no way I can ever pay you back. We always stress any relief we provide is always free. The food, the clothing, the shelter — it’s really all a gift from the American people."


March is Red Cross Month. To find out how you can help support the local Red Cross, please call 903-465-1330.